How Do You Build a Concrete Shelter? Just Add Water And Inflate!

Plain, grey, boring: concrete may not be much to look at, but two inventors have come up with a technology that combines all the strength of concrete with all the flexibility of cloth, offering incredible possibilities for those working on relief efforts in the wake of humanitarian crises.

Author Marisa Pettit, 04.27.15

Plain, grey, boring: concrete may not be much to look at, but two inventors have come up with a technology that combines all the strength of concrete with all the flexibility of cloth, offering incredible possibilities for those working on relief efforts in the wake of humanitarian crises.

Concrete Canvas Ltd. was set up by two British engineering graduates from London’s Royal College of Art and manufactures a sort of “concrete cloth”, a flexible material made of fibres that sets more quickly than normal concrete, allowing construction tasks to be carried out up to ten times faster than it would take using normal methods. The company’s first design was a concrete canvas shelter that could be rapidly deployed at disaster sites: the canvas is shipped over in a bag, wrapped around an inflatable lining. After the canvas has been soaked through with water, this lining is steadily blown up using a pump and the fabric is spread out to create the structure of the building. Spray the outside surface with water and leave it to set, and the next day you have a fireproof, secure, and semi-permanent structure.

Available in two different sizes, either 25 or 50 square metres, the shelters can be built by two people in less than 24 hours, without the need for complex tools or the help of specially trained contractors. As well as having a much longer life-span than a conventional tented shelter – at least 10 years, and even up to 25 – offering much better protection from the elements and also a higher level of security, the interior of the shelters is sterile too, meaning that they can also be used as medical facilities. This innovative technology clearly offers the opportunity for an improved and sustainable response to humanitarian crises, like for example this weekend’s tragic earthquake in Nepal, where it is said that vast tent cities have already sprung up, housing approximately hundreds of thousands of homeless people.

As well as being faster to use and install than traditional concrete building methods, the technology also uses 90 to 95 percent less concrete, whilst creating a material with the same durability and life span. That means less carbon dioxide created during production, and also during the transport and installation of huge, heavy concrete mixers.

Nowadays, aside from being used to construct disaster-relief buildings, the concrete canvas is also used for preventative environmental measures, such as slope protection, ditch linings, and erosion control. So, not only does this innovative technology save users time and materials, but to put it more “concretely”, it also does its bit for the environment too.

For more information about the technology’s uses in areas affected by crisis and to see the “building in a bag” in action, check out the video below:

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